Capital Journal – Higher spending concludes session — Lawmakers finish job in scheduled 90 days By Tim Carpenter

http://cjonline.com/stories/050307/sta_167236463.shtml

Higher spending concludes session — Lawmakers finish job in scheduled 90 days By Tim Carpenter
The Capital-Journal
Published Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Legislature’s purveyors of wisdom and mischief Wednesday adopted the final piece of the state budget before punching tickets for home.

For better or worse, the heavy lifting of the 2007 session is over.

There is a ceremonial adjournment May 22, but nothing of legislative consequence usually happens that day in the House and Senate. The working session consumed the full scheduled 90 days.

This edition of the annual political marathon closed with the House voting 68-56 to pass the omnibus spending bill.

The lone person crying foul was Rep. Jeff Colyer , R-Overland Park , who spoke on behalf of 13 fellow conservative Republicans disenchanted by rapid growth in state spending and the potential, if the state’s economy stumbles, to trigger a deficit within two years.

“This guarantees an unprecedented budget crisis,” he said. “It severely limits our ability to build new roads, reform health care, lower taxes or deal with other pressing needs.”

Two hours after the House dispensed with the budget, the Senate voted 23-15 in favor of the bill. Dissent also emerged from fiscal conservatives unhappy with an overall 8 percent increase in state spending.

“This is an incredible growth,” said Sen. Tim Huelskamp , R-Fowler. “We’re looking at huge red figures.”

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, joined a group of senators voting against the budget bill because it contained a clause viewed as an impediment to proposed research and teaching affiliations between The University of Kansas Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City , Mo.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a similar proviso this session related to KU Medical Center.

“The governor vetoed the last one, and I’m assuming she’s going to veto this one,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

In the end, the measure adding detail to the $12.6 million state budget was sent to the governor.

“There’s something in this bill for everyone of us to hate,” said Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg. “This is a compromise. That’s what we do.”

Sebelius said legislation reaching her desk this session addressed her four policy priorities: education and work force development, business tax reform, health care and energy.

“I’m pleased to report today that the vast majority of proposals were accepted,” she said. “The future of Kansas looks brighter today than it was just at the beginning of this year.”

The governor said the Legislature set the stage for substantial health care reform in the 2009 session, including a move toward providing affordable health care to all Kansans. Recommendations for change will come from a state agency, the Kansas Health Policy Authority.

Sebelius said she might renew a call to raise the state cigarette tax to pay for future health care initiatives.

“It’s a strategy we may put back on the table next year,” she said.

Sebelius said legislators’ refusal to allocate $4 million this session to provide insurance to children 0-5 years of age was a mistake.

“I am extremely disappointed that the Legislature once again, and I would say this is really about petty partisan politics, took off the table the opportunity to provide health insurance to every Kansas child,” she said.

Another proposal from the Democratic governor cast aside by the Republican majority was formation of rural enterprise zones in which small companies could qualify for tax credits by creating more jobs or investing in the business.

“We shouldn’t be discarding issues because they are from the governor,” said House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld , R-Ingalls, said the House followed his lead and concentrated on good policy rather than on political differences.

“By doing that this session we were able to accomplish a number of good things,” he said. “Many items House Republicans were able to check off our agenda.”

He listed tax relief, increased funding for public schools and social service programs, and the start of health care reform as key accomplishments. Failure to make progress on election and campaign reform was disappointing, he said.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said bipartisan cooperation in the Senate made the session more pleasant and productive. Relations between the House and Senate remain strained, he said.

“The Senate was a stabilizing force,” said Hensley, who completed his 31st year in the Statehouse.

He said the most significant action of the Legislature was to approve expansion of gaming to include casino gambling and slot machines at racetracks.

On a local level, he said, Topeka came out of the session with a bill limiting funeral picketing by supporters of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka , continuation of state backing of improvements at Heartland Park Topeka, $950,000 for operations and development of the new Kaw River State Park in Topeka , and an increase in longevity bonuses for state employees.

As of Wednesday, Sebelius had signed 166 bills into law and vetoed four measures this session.

Tim Carpenter can be reached at (785) 296-3005 or timothy.carpenter@cjonline.com.

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